Shane Warne believes England will provide tougher opposition than many critics believe in the forthcoming Ashes series. The world's best spinner has pinpointed Chris Read and Monty Panesar as key players for England.
"Chris Read is obviously the best wicketkeeper in England and Monty Panesar is a match-winning spinner," Warne said. "There will be a lot of bounce and spin towards the end of matches and that is where Monty will be key."
Read faces competition from Geraint Jones for his position. Panesar, meanwhile, faces a threat from Ashley Giles who has recovered from the persistent hip injury that ruled him out of the entire 2006 season.
While Warne admits bringing the pair back into the Test side would benefit England's lower-order batting, he believes that retaining the current players would be crucial to the tourists' hopes of retaining the Ashes.
"I suppose there is a big concern for them with their tail if they play Panesar and they've got [Matthew] Hoggard and [Steve] Harmison down there. I think, though, in these Australian conditions Monty Panesar is a very dangerous and attacking bowler, and he can be a match-winner. If they want to go with Ashley Giles' all-round package and they think that's important to their side, so be it. But I think Panesar and Read are two crucial players - Read's the best keeper, you need that in Australia, and Panesar is the best spinner."
Hoggard, for his part, promises England will be out to match Australia's aggressive cricket. The Yorkshire seamer is aware of the importance of England's warm-up fixtures - they start their tour with a limited-overs game against the Prime Minister's XI tomorrow - but he left little doubt about how Andrew Flintoff's team intend to approach the Test series.
"They didn't like losing the Ashes - and I'm sure they'll be coming out playing some hard, intense, aggressive cricket," he said. "We'll be trying to match them. We'll be looking them in the eyes and we'll stand there toe-to-toe and say, 'Right, come on then'."
* The Pakistan Cricket Board has offered to play a one-day international in England to make up for lost revenue after Pakistan forfeited the final Test of their summer tour on day four at the Oval. But an England and Wales Cricket Board spokeswoman said last night: "England have a packed schedule next summer and it is unlikely this one-day match could be accommodated."
The Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar has appealed against his two-year ban for doping, which was imposed on 1 November after he tested positive for nandrolone.Reuse content